by Precious M, 23 years old, participant in the "Cucinare per ricominciare" project, an initiative offering linguistic and professional training to aid refugees and asylum-seekers in finding jobs in Milan
Two years have passed since I arrived in Italy from Nigeria and I can say that I have finally found the peaceful place I was looking for.
She continues: "I live in Lecco, in the north of Italy, and volunteer in a canteen for poor people managed by Caritas – the organisation that has helped me since my arrival – as well as in the parish where I work with children. I’m also committed occasionally to do some sporadic jobs as a house cleaner or seller of the street magazine ‘Scarp de’ tenis’, which is also a Caritas project.
I left Nigeria three years ago, looking for a peaceful place where I would be respected and could fulfil my dream of becoming a lawyer. I never thought of becoming a refugee. I used to live with my parents and my three brothers in Nigeria. I studied office technology management and right after finishing my studies, I found a job in a company in my city. After that, my life totally changed: I had problems with my boss and so left my job, my family’s house burnt down and we had to move to another village.
The situation became worse when my father died and my mother lost everything, as happens to most unprotected widows in Nigeria. I didn’t have a choice: I had to leave, to find a way to build my own future and to help my mother and my family. I arrived in Libya first, but it was not the safe place I was looking for. After much suffering and spending more than a month in prison, I crossed the Mediterranean and landed on the Italian island of Lampedusa.
The way I see it, I am here in my new city to contribute, not to ‘stand still’. I have been actively looking for opportunities and have found them, thanks to a project created by the NGO AVSI Foundation, the Farsi Prossimo cooperative and by the Panino Giusto chain of restaurants in Milan. The project is called ‘Cucinare per ricominciare’ – “Cooking to Restart” – and it offers linguistic and professional training to help refugees and asylum-seekers to get a job in Milan. I have learnt how to cook Italian food and how to work in this field in order to get ready for an internship in a Panino Giusto restaurant. If everything goes according to plan, I will be hired and this will be the first step towards making my dreams come true.
Since my arrival in Italy, I have studied and learnt Italian, because I knew that it was the most important thing to do in a foreign country. Yet it’s not enough: to live in Italy, one has to learn its rules and respect them. One has to have the desire to become familiar with other things too and embrace the culture as a whole, including Italy’s culinary scene, traditions and daily life. If not, there is no point in staying.
The role of those welcoming us is also crucial. When I arrived, I was hosted in a reception centre in a small mountain community in the north of Italy with 18 other youngsters. The 120 inhabitants of that small village were scared, they saw us as a threat and we had to face prejudice, such as the idea that all Nigerian girls come to Italy because they are forced into prostitution. When surfing the web or watching TV, I understand why those people thought that way. It’s widespread in Italy to talk about migrants in a very aggressive way, especially in politics, and my personal opinion is that this behaviour is not facilitating integration.
I think politicians should understand, accept and spread awareness of the idea that the whole world is constantly on the move. People have migrated over hundreds of years and they will keep on migrating for years to come, and this includes people from all backgrounds and races. It’s normal. It’s also important to understand that those who decide to migrate risk their lives in the search of a better life, just as Italians and Europeans have done in the past.
Politicians, both in Italy and elsewhere in Europe, should first of all take care of the issues related to the economy and employment. Migrants aren’t here to take away Italian jobs or opportunities from the locals. On the contrary, welcoming refugees has prompted new job opportunities for some Italians and Europeans. It’s the lack of work which is the real problem, for both migrants and locals.
For me, the experience with AVSI and Panino Giusto has been the first step towards reaching my goals. I like the idea of being a cook, a waitress: it’s a job that allows you to serve people, which is the same reason that motivates me to become a lawyer. If my dream comes true, one day I can go back to Nigeria to help those who are in need".
The story is published on "Real people, true stories. Refugees for more inclusive societies"
This publication is part of Friends of Europe’s Migration and Integration programme. In this discussion paper, refugees past and present share their personal stories and offer forward-looking, experience-based recommendations for improving integration around the world.
The Migration & Integration programme is supported by the United States European Command.
The European Commission support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents which reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.